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March 14, 2014

Labour politician Tony Benn dies aged 88

Labour politician Tony Benn dies aged 88

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Friday, March 14, 2014

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Tony Benn in 2007.
Image: Isujosh.

Tony Benn, British Labour Party politician and left-wing campaigner, died this morning at his home in west London at age 88. Benn’s health had been declining since a stroke left him hospitalized in 2012.

Benn’s father and both grandfathers were MPs (Members of Parliament) in the Liberal party; his father defected to Labour and became a Cabinet Minister. Benn grew up in London and was a pupil at Westminster School before studying politics, philosophy and economics at New College, Oxford. During World War II, he served in the Royal Air Force for two years, then went back to Oxford to finish his studies. He worked as a BBC radio producer.

Tony Benn became an MP in November of 1950 and was a member of the cabinets of Harold Wilson and James Callaghan. In 1981, Benn ran for deputy leadership of the Labour Party but lost. He also had a role in shaping the 1983 Labour manifesto. He went on to become a diarist and speaker, as well as joining in the anti-war movement and speaking out strongly against the Iraq war. The Sun newspaper once referred to him as “the most dangerous man in Britain” because of his strong left-wing political views.

Benn’s son Hilary also joined Labour and is an MP for Leeds Central. He distanced himself from his father’s views by saying he was “a Benn, not a Bennite”.

Benn’s children released a statement following his passing: “We would like to express our heartfelt thanks to all the NHS [National Health Service] staff and carers who have looked after him with such kindness in hospital and at home. We will miss above all his love which has sustained us throughout our lives. But we are comforted by the memory of his long, full and inspiring life and so proud of his devotion to helping others as he sought to change the world for the better.”

Labour leader Ed Miliband said Benn was an “iconic figure of our age”, “a champion of the powerless, a great parliamentarian and a conviction politician”. David Cameron said on Twitter: “Tony Benn was a magnificent writer, speaker and campaigner. There was never a dull moment listening to him, even if you disagreed with him.”



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February 28, 2012

U.S. Army identifies remains of last U.S. soldier unaccounted for in Iraq

U.S. Army identifies remains of last U.S. soldier unaccounted for in Iraq

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

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The remains of United States Staff Sergeant Ahmed K. Altaie of Ann Arbor, Michigan, were identified on Saturday. Although Army officials provided no details surrounding his death, the military’s mortuary in Dover, Delaware positively identified Altaie’s remains. Altaie was the last missing United States service member unaccounted for in Iraq.

Altaie was born in Iraq and moved to the United States during his teenage years. He served as a translator for the U.S. Army when he was abuducted on October 23, 2006, having joined the Army Reserve two years before.

Altaie took a motorcycle trip from Baghdad’s Green Zone to visit his Iraqi wife when three abductor’s pulled up, handcuffed the 41 year old, and left with him. Iraqi officials offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to Altaie.

In February 2007, a ten-second video posted on a militant Shiite website appeared to be of Altaie.

Hathal Altaie, the man’s brother, told McClatchy, “We’ve been waiting for five years, suffering, not knowing if he’s alive or dead. This was not the news we wanted, of course, but it’s better than staying like that, without ever knowing what happened to him.”


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December 21, 2011

Remaining US troops exit Iraq

Remaining US troops exit Iraq – Wikinews, the free news source

Remaining US troops exit Iraq

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Iraq War
Other Iraq War stories
  • 14 March 2014: Labour politician Tony Benn dies aged 88
  • 28 February 2012: U.S. Army identifies remains of last U.S. soldier unaccounted for in Iraq
  • 21 December 2011: Remaining US troops exit Iraq
  • 3 December 2010: British warship HMS Invincible put up for auction online
  • 23 October 2010: WikiLeaks releases Iraq War logs
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The last convoy of US soldiers crosses the border from Iraq into Kuwait, ending the eight-year long Iraq War.
Image: Cpl. Jordan Johnson, US Army.

The last convoy of US soldiers crossed the border from Iraq into Kuwait on Sunday, effectively bringing the controversial eight-year long Iraq War to an end. The final convoy, containing around a hundred US military vehicles with five hundred troops, exited Iraq at 0738 AST (0438 UTC) Sunday.

Private First Class Martin Lamb described the departure as “a good feeling … knowing this is going to be the last mission out of here”. The event was “[p]art of history, you know — we’re the last ones out,” according to Lamb.

The Iraq War, which commenced in 2003 on the pretext of Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction, which later turned out to be false, was responsible for toppling the regime of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and introducing a democratic government within Iraq. In the aftermath of Hussein’s downfall, a violent, religion-based conflict broke out between those of Shia Islam faith and Sunni Islam communities, reaching its peak in 2006. The following year, a large number of US troops were sent into Iraq; the number of sectarian and insurgent attacks subsequently declined.

The Iraq War involved a maximum of over 170,000 US troops, stationed in Iraq at more than 500 bases. Tens of thousands to over 100,000 Iraqi citizens and close to 4,500 US troops were killed as a result of the war. The financial cost of the Iraq War was almost US$1 trillion (767 billion or £638 billion) to the US government.

US presence in Iraq has been reduced to 157 soldiers in charge of military training at their embassy in the capital Baghdad and a minor base of US marines. The US federal government reportedly intended to retain a minor counter-terrorism presence in Iraq, as well as the continuation of military training in the country. However, negotiations between US government representatives and Iraqi officials were unsuccessful, as they failed to reach an agreement on legal matters, such as troop immunity.

In 2008, the Bush administration had committed to withdrawing all US troops from Iraq by the end of 2011, a movement which was announced by his successor and current US president Barack Obama in October 2011. Obama signified the conclusion of the war with Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq, earlier this month. In a speech in North Carolina at Fort Bragg, Obama stated that the country US troops were leaving is now “sovereign, stable and self-reliant”.

US and Kuwaiti soldiers close the gate between Kuwait and Iraq, after the last military convoys passed through, signaling the end of the Iraq War.
Image: Cpl. Jordan Johnson, US Army.

Reaction to the US government’s decision has been mixed. According to Voice of America opinion polls in the United States indicate that a majority of Americans believe the war lasted longer than it should have done. Obama himself had opposed the war when he ran for president and vowed to end it. News agencies report Iraqis glad to see the US leave, but concerned for the future.

Arab News reports that Iraqis also have mixed feelings, such as Safa, a 26-year old baker using a pseudonym, who said “I am proud — all Iraqis should be proud, like all those whose country has been freed. The Americans toppled Saddam, but our lives since then have gone backward.” He also said, “The situation will only improve if politicians work on fighting corruption and adopt reforms.”

A 50-year-old mother calling herself Umm Mohammed said, “I don’t think we can ever forgive the Americans for what they did to us, from killings to terrorism. Those people [Americans] think only about themselves, and not about the consequences of their actions.”

Mohammed Abdelamir, 60, said “We must all cooperate and work to improve the economy, the society, and begin rebuilding, and not fight because we are seeing that some politicians have already begun putting a stick in the wheel.”

Other Iraqis who worked for Americans are fearful over their departure, fearing they may be killed. John, a pseudonym for one such Iraqi, said to Al-Jazeera, “It’s a fact to these people, we betrayed our country, anyone who worked with the Americans. They think we don’t even deserve to be Iraqi.”

Mark, another such Iraqi, said “All the people around me know that I was working with the Americans. We feel that we are in danger from anyone who was against the US troops.” John and Mark both worked for Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) in Iraq. Both men have applied for Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) which the US government created in 2008 for Iraqis who have worked for US forces.

However, there is an immense backlog for applicants, as over 30,000 await a decision. So far, only 7,000 SIV visas have been issued. John has been waiting for a visa for over a year, Mark has been waiting nine months since applying in March. Mark said, “They said we should wait at least six months, but this is crazy”. And, “For nine months I am jobless, waiting for that visa. I have nothing to do.”



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August 19, 2010

US combat forces pull out of Iraq

US combat forces pull out of Iraq – Wikinews, the free news source

US combat forces pull out of Iraq

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

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M1126 Stryker ICV on patrol near Mosul, Iraq
Image: TSGT Mike Buytas, USAF.

Sources say that the final section of 14,000 combat troops in Iraq, the United States Army‘s 4th Stryker Brigade, based at Fort Lewis, Washington, have made their way across the border between Iraq and Kuwait, formally ending combat operations within Iraq.

Around 50,000 troops will remain in Iraq to assist Iraqi armed forces training in Operation New Dawn, ending late 2011.

The section crossed the border at 1:30 local time (22:30 yesterday UTC, 18:30 EDT), bringing to an end the US military’s seven and a half year involvement in Iraq, from their entry, to the fall of Saddam Hussein, and the creation of a democratic government in the country.

Brigadier General Nick Tooliatos saluted each soldier as they crossed the border into Kuwait.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better honor than to greet some soldiers who have done great work for a year fighting our nation’s war, and to just be here and render honors to them and welcome them and thank them for a job well done,” Tooliatos said.

US combat forces had occupied Iraq since the Iraq War in early 2003. According to the Pentagon, 4,415 American troops have died in combat in Iraq since then.



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June 29, 2010

US Senator Robert Byrd dies at age 92

US Senator Robert Byrd dies at age 92 – Wikinews, the free news source

US Senator Robert Byrd dies at age 92

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Senator Robert Byrd, the longest serving member of the United States Congress died yesterday at the age of 92.

Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia (1917-2010)
Image: United States Senate.

A spokesman for the Democratic Senator from the state of West Virginia said Byrd had been hospitalized since last week. At first he was thought to have been suffering from heat exhaustion and severe dehydration but other medical conditions developed. On Sunday, his condition was described as “serious”.

Byrd was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1952 and to the U.S. Senate in 1958. He suffered from ill health in recent years but retained his reputation for securing millions in federal funding for his home state.

Throughout his career in the U.S Senate he held positions including Senate Majority Whip, Majority Leader twice and Minority Leader once. Due to his status as the longest serving Senator, Byrd was serving as President pro tempore of the United States Senate, which made him third in line in the Presidential line of succession. Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii has been sworn in as the new President pro tempore.

Byrd served nine terms in the Senate and was labeled by critics as the “King of Pork”. He used his former chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee to steer over one billion dollars in federal aid to West Virginia, one of the poorest states in the country, described by him as, “one of the rock bottomest [sic] of states”.

Byrd took the title to heart and had no apologies about it, saying, “Pork, to the critic, is service to the people who enjoy some of the good things in life, and I’ve been happy to bring to West Virginia the projects to which they refer. I have no apology for it.”

Byrd was originally born as Cornelius Calvin Sale, Jr. on November 20, 1917. He grew up in the coal mining regions of southern West Virginia with his aunt and uncle, who adopted him following the death of his mother in the 1918 flu pandemic. He was the valedictorian of his high school class, but could not afford college and did not attend university courses until his 30s and 40s.

The Senator had a fondness for history, and included excerpts of poetry, Shakespeare, Greek and Roman classics along with verses from the Bible in his Senate speeches. He considered himself a staunch defender of United States Constitution, and carried a copy of it in his pocket. Byrd was versed in parliamentary procedure using some of the Senate’s arcane rules to his advantage. He received awards from the American Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians for significant contributions to history.

Byrd had his share of controversy. He was at one time a member of the Ku Klux Klan, serving as the top officer of his local chapter and once held racial segregationist views. Byrd was involved in the filibuster against the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, which he voted against. Byrd later explicitly and repeatedly denounced his former segregationist views.

Byrd is the only Senator to have voted against the nominations of African-American Supreme Court justices Thurgood Marshall and Marshall’s successor following his retirement, Clarence Thomas. Byrd’s opposition of Thomas was based on the testimony of Anita Hill who accused Thomas of sexually harassing her and due to the fact that Byrd felt Thomas was “injecting racism” into the debate by using the phrase “high-tech lynching of uppity blacks” in his defense against the allegations.

Byrd, who supported the Vietnam War, was one of the most outspoken critics of the War in Iraq. He voted against the Iraq War Resolution. Byrd spoke on the eve the invasion saying, “Today I weep for my country. […] No more is the image of America one of strong, yet benevolent peacekeeper. The image of America has changed. Around the globe, our friends mistrust us, our word is disputed, our intentions are questioned. Instead of reasoning with those with whom we disagree, we demand obedience or threaten recrimination.”



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April 10, 2010

US military to carry out review following Wikileaks release of classified 2007 video

US military to carry out review following Wikileaks release of classified 2007 video

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Saturday, April 10, 2010

“Collateral Murder”, edited by the Wikileaks organization from onboard footage from one of the two AH-64 Apache helicopters involved in the incident.[Full audio transcript] Other video clips including the full 38-minute footage and clips corresponding to the Army report exhibits were also made available by Wikileaks.

Following the release of classified video earlier this week, the US military is to carry out a review of a 2007 airstrike which occurred in Baghdad. At a press conference on April 5, 2010, at the National Press Club in Washington D.C., the whistleblowing wiki Wikileaks released a video which appears to contradict the official US account of the attack.

The review follows the release of footage from the targeting system of an AH-64 Apache attack helicopter, one of two United States Army helicopters engaging what they believed to be Iraqi insurgents.

The attack led to the death of two Reuters journalists, driver Saeed Chmagh, photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, and other Iraqi civilians. The official U.S. Army investigation report that followed the attack concludes that the death of the Reuters staffers and civilians was as a result of collateral damage of an engagement against Iraqi insurgents. However the released video and the associated radio chatter suggests that the army aviators had mistakenly identified the camera equipment used by the journalists as weapons, and the group of Iraqi civilians and journalists themselves were the target of the attack. The video and radio chatter have been confirmed as genuine by a U.S. Defense official speaking to Reuters on the condition of anonymity.

Wikileaks says the video comes from “military whistleblowers” and that it was passed to them in an encrypted form. Wikileaks broke the encryption on the video after a public appeal for help, including an appeal for time on a supercomputer.



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April 5, 2010

Gunmen kill 25 in Iraqi village

Gunmen kill 25 in Iraqi village – Wikinews, the free news source

Gunmen kill 25 in Iraqi village

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Monday, April 5, 2010

Iraq
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  • 27 May 2015: Pro-government forces in Iraq launch operation to reclaim Ramadi from Islamic State
  • 19 April 2015: ISIS attacks United States consulate in Irbil, Iraq
  • 11 September 2014: John Kerry visits Iraq to build regional support against Islamic State
  • 6 September 2014: NATO leaders meet for two day summit in Wales
  • 24 August 2014: Islamic State capture Syrian airbase
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Iraqi police officials stated on Saturday that gunmen wearing military uniforms have killed 25 people, including five women, in a Friday night attack on a Sunni village named Sufia, 15 miles south of Baghdad. All those killed were members of the Jubur tribe, which was among the last supporters of Al-Qaeda to ally with U.S. forces, only doing so in late 2007.

Baghdad’s security spokesman, Major General Qassim al-Moussawi has stated that “At least seven people were found alive, bound with handcuffs.” In the hours after Friday night’s shootings, Iraqi officials arrested 17 suspects in the incident and cordoned off the area to search for more.

Most of the victims in the attack were local members of the Sons of Iraq, a group which helped U.S. and Iraqi forces since 2006 to suppress insurgent activity. They were found handcuffed with broken arms or legs, and with gun wounds in either the chest or the head. This marks part of the large amount of dead last month, 367, which is the fourth month where the amount dead by insurgent attacks has been higher than in mid-war.



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March 6, 2010

Gordon Brown defends Iraq decision

Gordon Brown defends Iraq decision – Wikinews, the free news source

Gordon Brown defends Iraq decision

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Saturday, March 6, 2010

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Image: World Economic Forum.

On Friday, the current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Gordon Brown defended the decisions he made leading up to and following the British invasion of Iraq in 2003. Brown made his statements while testifying before the Chilcot Inquiry. At the time of the invasion, Brown was the Chancellor of spending for the British Armed Forces.

Brown comments were mainly directed at critics who had alleged that he had limited the spending budget for the war. Brown said that he had told then Prime Minister Tony Blair that he “would not try to rule out any military option on the grounds of cost.” One of the most notable criticisms involved the use of the Snatch Land Rovers, a patrol vehicle used following the invasion. People had complained that the vehicles were vulnerable to road side bombs. Brown, however, alleged that he fulfilled all requests for better vehicles. Regarding the Land Rovers, Brown said that he moved to replace them as soon as he heard complaints.

In addition to defending his budget decisions, Brown also defended the overall decision to go into Iraq. Brown said that invading was “the right decision” and that it was based on “the right reasons.” He said the international community was justified in its invasion. However, Brown admitted he may have been unknowledgeable about certain aspects of the war, and hinted that the possibility that things could have been done better. Brown mentioned that there were “learnt lessons” from the war. One specific regret he made was that did not apply more pressure towards America regarding their plans for Iraq following the invasion. During the testimony, Brown emphasized the importance of post-invasion planning and reconstruction. Brown also mentioned that he was unaware of doubts that another Cabinet member had about the validity of the evidence that Saddam Hussein was harboring weapons of mass destruction. The member, Robin Cook, later resigned because of his opposition to the war. This is relevant because both the UK and America had claimed that Hussein had had the weapons, and used this as part of their cases for the invasion. It was later revealed that Hussein had never had the weapons.

In addition to the issues regarding his handling of the war, Brown is also in the situation of being up for reelection. The main opponent of Brown, who represents the Labour Party, will be David Cameron, from the Conservative Party. The elections will be held on June 3, 2010.



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February 3, 2010

Ex-minister says UK Cabinet was \”misled\” about legality of Iraq war

Ex-minister says UK Cabinet was “misled” about legality of Iraq war

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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Iraq
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  • 27 May 2015: Pro-government forces in Iraq launch operation to reclaim Ramadi from Islamic State
  • 19 April 2015: ISIS attacks United States consulate in Irbil, Iraq
  • 11 September 2014: John Kerry visits Iraq to build regional support against Islamic State
  • 6 September 2014: NATO leaders meet for two day summit in Wales
  • 24 August 2014: Islamic State capture Syrian airbase
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In this 2009 file photo, Clare Short is speaking at a rally in Birmingham.
Image: Faizan Bhat.

Clare Short, the United Kingdom’s then-Secretary of State for International Development, appeared before the Iraq Inquiry yesterday, and told the panel that the Cabinet was “misled” about the Iraq War’s legality prior to the 2003 invasion. The three-hour session was held in the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in London’s City of Westminster.

Short, an outspoken critic of the war, retired from the cabinet to become an independent MP two months before the invasion. She claimed to have been “conned” into staying on despite her doubts about the war and told the inquiry that the Cabinet, of which she was a part, was not a “decision-making body”, and that Parliament was simply a “rubber stamp”.

Lord Goldsmith’s decision

She also claimed that Tony Blair “and his mates” had acted “on a wing and a prayer”, having “leaned on” then-Attorney General for England and Wales Lord Peter Goldsmith, pressurising him to change his mind about the invasion. She did, however, admit that she had no evidence to support these claims. Goldsmith gave a verdict that the war would be legal only shortly before the invasion, having firmly held the belief that it would not be without a further United Nations Security Council resolution.

Short was applauded as she concluded her testimony, in which she said that she was “shocked” at how a definitive statement about the legality of the war circulated only as late as March 17, 2003 — just three days before the invasion began — that this state of shock led her to be “jeered at” by other ministers. Said statement, according to Short, contained no hint that Goldsmith had previously had any doubts whatsoever.

She said any discussion of legality was stopped at the same pre-war cabinet meeting. She accused Blair of standing in the way of such discussion, and said, “Everything that’s happened since makes me know that there was deliberate blockage and there were also all sorts of secret, private meetings”, and that normal cabinet communications were “closed down” as the invasion approached. “There was never a meeting that said ‘what’s the problem, what are we trying to achieve, what are our military, diplomatic options?’ We never had that coherent discussion … never.”

Cquote1.svg I think [Goldsmith] misled the cabinet. He certainly misled me, but people let it through Cquote2.svg

—Clare Short

Goldsmith responded to her inquiries about the lateness of this statement by saying “it takes me a long time to make my mind up”, and that he had made his decision after consulting foreign legal professionals. She said that Goldsmith’s “doubts and his changes of opinion” made her “think for the attorney general to come and say there’s unequivocal legal authority to go war was misleading.” She said that “I think he misled the cabinet. He certainly misled me, but people let it through”.

Cquote1.svg [I]f we got a Palestinian state and a UN lead on reconstruction, that will be much better Cquote2.svg

—Clare Short

She claimed that the government, having failed to secure a required UN resolution, started the “untrue” rumour that France had vetoed it. She said that she “believed them at the time. You don’t want to disbelieve your Prime Minister in the run-up to war and you want to believe the leader of your party. You want to be loyal”.

UN involvement

When asked why she had not resigned earlier than she did, she said that she “was conned” by Blair’s promises of a strong role for the UN in the reconstruction of Iraq, as well as more attempts to resolve the conflict about Israel. She said that she “thought that if we got a Palestinian state and a UN lead on reconstruction, that will be much better … I took a lot of flak for it. I still think, if we had done those things, it would have been a heck of a lot better.” She says that this lack of UN involvement in the post-invasion reconstruction effort was her main reason for retiring from the government.

Short said that she “was seeing the intelligence” about Iraq at the earlier stages of preparation for an invasion, but that in late 2002 “asked for a briefing… This just didn’t come and didn’t come… it became clear there was some sort of block on communications.” Apparently, the intelligence reports she say said that “Saddam Hussein didn’t have nuclear [weapons] … [he] would if he could but he was nowhere near it. It wasn’t saying there was some new imminent threat”.

Tony Blair, 9/11, and post-war planning

Short asserted Blair’s evidence, given to the inquiry on Friday, was “historically inaccurate”, since “[t]here was no evidence of any kind of an escalation of threats” after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre. This is contrary to Blair’s claims that attitudes towards the threat Iraq posed “changed dramatically” after the attacks, and that Saddam Hussein “threatened not just the region but the world”.

Cquote1.svg We could have gone more slowly and carefully and not have had a totally destabilised and angry Iraq Cquote2.svg

—Clare Short

She said, “We could have gone more slowly and carefully and not have had a totally destabilised and angry Iraq. The American people were misled to suggest that al-Qaeda had links to Saddam Hussein. Everybody knows that is untrue – that he had absolutely no links, no sympathy, al-Qaeda were nowhere near Iraq until after the invasion and the disorder that came from that.” Short criticised the military for not meeting the obligations laid out for them, as an occupying force, by the Geneva Convention.

Background and response

Lord Boyce, the former head of the British armed forces, said in an earlier hearing that officials from the Department for International Development — Short’s department — let their opposition to the war prevent them from cooperating fully with the rest of the government immediately after the invasion. Alistair Campbell, Blair’s former spokesman, said that Short had been “difficult to handle” in the run-up to the invasion, and that there was fear that she may leak pieces of information that she did not agree with. Lord Andrew Turnbull, former Secretary of the Cabinet, however, said that these concerns were unfair, and that minority voices had been unfairly pushed to the sidelines.

Hilary Benn, who took over Short’s post after her resignation, is scheduled to give evidence before the inquiry today.



Related news

  • “Tony Blair tells Iraq Inquiry he would invade again” — Wikinews, January 29, 2010
  • “UK Attorney General Lord Goldsmith admits to changing mind over Iraq war” — Wikinews, January 27, 2010
  • “UK cabinet minister Jack Straw ignored advice that Iraq invasion was illegal” — Wikinews, January 27, 2010

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January 29, 2010

Tony Blair tells Iraq Inquiry he would invade again

Tony Blair tells Iraq Inquiry he would invade again

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Friday, January 29, 2010

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2007 file photo of Tony Blair.
Image: Gryffindor.

Tony Blair, former prime minister of the United Kingdom, appeared before the Iraq Inquiry today. He faced six hours of questioning, starting at 6:30 am, at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in London concerning his role in the 2003 Iraq invasion. During the inquiry, Blair stood by his decision to invade, saying he would make the same decision again.

This is the third time Blair has given evidence at an inquiry into the Iraq War, having already testified before the Hutton Inquiry and the Butler Review, as well as participating in an investigation by the Intelligence and Security Committee. The Hutton Inquiry found that the government did not “sex up” the dossier on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. The Butler Review uncovered “serious flaws” in pre-war intelligence, and this inquiry was set up by current prime minister Gordon Brown in order to “learn the lessons” of the war. Sir John Chilcott, the inquiry chairman, began by stressing that Blair was not “on trial”, but could be called back to give further evidence if necessary.

At the end of the session, Chilcott asked Blair if he had any regrets, to which Blair replied that he was “sorry” that it was “divisive”, but said that invading was the right thing to do since he believes “the world is a safer place as a result.” Blair said that the inquiry should ask the “2010 question”, which refers to the hypothetical position that the world would be in if Saddam Hussein were not removed from power. He said that “today we would have a situation where Iraq was competing with Iran […] in respect of support of terrorist groups”.

Reasons for invasion

At the inquiry, the topics on which Blair was questioned included his reasons for invading Iraq.

At the time, he said that his reasons were based on a need to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction; however, interviews held later suggest that removing Saddam Hussein from power was his primary objective. Blair denies this, asserting that the need to dispose of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction was the only reason for the United Kingdom’s participation in the invasion. He explained that, in an interview with Fern Britton, he “did not use the words regime change”, and, what he was trying to say was, “you would not describe the nature of the threat in the same way if you knew then what you knew now, that the intelligence on WMD had been shown to be wrong”.

He said, despite no weapons of mass destruction being found by UN weapons inspectors, he still believes that Saddam Hussein had the means to develop and deploy them; “[h]e had used them, he definitely had them […] and so in a sense it would have required quite strong evidence the other way to be doubting the fact that he had this programme […] The primary consideration for me was to send an absolutely powerful, clear and unremitting message that after September 11 if you were a regime engaged in WMD [weapons of mass destruction], you had to stop.”

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He also said that weapons of mass destruction and regime change were not separate issues, but “conjoined”, since “brutal and oppressive” regimes with such weapons are a “bigger threat” than less hostile nations with the same weapons. He said that Hussein’s regime was hiding important information from UN weapons inspectors, and had “no intention” of complying with them. He asserted that he has “no regrets” about removing Hussein, “[a] monster and I believe he threatened not just the region but the world.”

There were also questions about why the UN weapons inspectors were not given more time in Iraq in March 2003. Blair responded by saying that it would have made very little difference, as Iraq had the knowledge and “intent” to rebuild its weapons program from scratch if it were dismantled. He was also asked whether he still believed that the war was morally justified. He said that he did. He also said that the war was required because more diplomatic solutions had already failed, and the “containment” of Hussein’s regime through diplomatic sanctions was “eroding” when the decision to invade was made.

Cquote1.svg I never regarded 11 September as an attack on America, I regarded it as an attack on us. Cquote2.svg

—Tony Blair

He also said that attitudes towards Saddam Hussein and the threat he presented “changed dramatically” after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York. He said, “I never regarded 11 September as an attack on America, I regarded it as an attack on us.” He said that he believed terrorists would use biological and chemical weaponry, and also said, “if those people inspired by this religious fanaticism could have killed 30,000 they would have. My view was you could not take risks with this issue at all.”

He later said, “When I talked earlier about the calculus of risk changing after September 11 it’s really important I think to understand in so far as to understanding the decision I took, and frankly would take again. If there was any possibility that he could develop weapons of mass destruction we should stop him. That was my view then. It’s my view now.”

Crawford commitment

He was also asked about his supposed commitment to George W. Bush that United Kingdom would join the United States in an Iraq war, which he is said to have made at Bush’s Crawford ranch in 2002. Blair stubbornly denied that this took place, saying that what was said is that Saddam Hussein had to be “dealt with”, and that “the method of doing that is open”. Instead, he says, his reasons for the invasion were moral.

Cquote1.svg The decision I had to take was … could we take the risk of this man reconstituting his weapons programme? Cquote2.svg

—Tony Blair

He also said, “This isn’t about a lie or a conspiracy or a deceit or a deception. It’s a decision. And the decision I had to take was, given Saddam’s history, given his use of chemical weapons, given the over one million people whose deaths he had caused, given 10 years of breaking UN resolutions, could we take the risk of this man reconstituting his weapons programmes or is that a risk that it would be irresponsible to take?”

He said of Bush: “I think what he took from that [the meeting] was exactly what he should have taken, which was if it came to military action because there was no way of dealing with this diplomatically, we would be with him.” He did admit, however, that—a year later, as the invasion approached—he had been offered a “way out” of the war, which he declined. He said of this, “I think President Bush at one point said, before the House of Commons debate, ‘Look if it’s too difficult for Britain, we understand’. I took the view very strongly then—and do now—that it was right for us to be with America, since we believed in this too.”

The 45-minute claim

Another line of questioning focused on his 45-minute claim, which was included in the September 2002 dossier but redacted after the war. It states that Hussein was able to deploy nuclear weapons within 45 minutes of giving the order. This dossier also contained the words, “the assessed intelligence has established beyond doubt is that Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons”. However, the inquiry has revealed that there were certain caveats involved, so the claim was not—anti-war campaigners claim—”beyond doubt”, especially since senior civil servants have told the inquiry that intelligence suggested that Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction had been dismantled.

Blair said that it “would have been better if (newspaper) headlines about the ’45-minute claim’ had been corrected” to state—as he admits he should have made clear—that the claim referred to battlefield munitions, rather than to missiles. He says that, with the benefit of hindsight, he would have liked to have published the intelligence reports themselves, since they were “absolutely strong enough”. He did insist, however, that the intelligence that was available at the time put it “beyond doubt” that Iraq was continuing to develop weaponry. He added that “things obviously look quite different” after the war, since weapons of mass destruction were not found.

Legality and planning

File photo of Lord Goldsmith, who told the inquiry earlier this week that he changed his mind about the legality of the war.
Image: Johnnyryan1.

One of the main topics was the legality of the war. Earlier this week, a senior Foreign Office legal advisor claimed that the war would be illegal without a further United Nations Security Council resolution—which was not obtained. The attorney general at the time, Lord Peter Goldsmith, said that the cabinet refused to enter into a debate over the legality of the war, and that Blair had not received his advice that a further UN resolution would be needed warmly. He insists that he “desperately” tried to find a diplomatic solution to the problem until France and Russia “changed their position” and would not allow the passage of a further resolution.

Blair also said that he would not have invaded had Goldsmith said that it “could not be justified legally”, and explained Goldsmith’s change of mind by saying that the then attorney general “had to come to a conclusion”, and his conclusion was that the war was legal. He did not know why Goldsmith made this conclusion, but said he believes that it may be due to the fact that weapons inspectors “indicated that Saddam Hussein had not taken a final opportunity to comply” with the UN.

Questions were also asked on the government’s poor post-war planning, and claimed confusion about whether the US had a plan for Iraq after the war was over. Blair was drilled about the lack of priority that was given to the issue of post-war planning. He was also asked about the lack of equipment that British soldiers were given. This line of questioning was pursued in front of the families of some of the soldiers who died in Iraq—many of whom blame the poor equipment for the deaths of their relatives.

Response

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The families of some of the 179 British soldiers killed in the Iraq war, along with around 200 anti-war protesters, held a demonstration calling for Blair to be declared a war criminal outside the centre in London’s City of Westminster. They chanted “Tony Blair, war criminal” as the former prime minister gave evidence inside. Blair was jeered by a member of the audience as he made his closing statement, and the families booed him, chanting “you are a liar” and “you are a murderer” as he left the centre.

In order to avoid the protesters, he arrived early and was escorted by security as he entered through the back door, with large numbers of police officers standing by. One of these protesters, Iraqi Saba Jaiwad, said, “The Iraqi people are having to live every day with aggression, division, and atrocities. Blair should not be here giving his excuses for the illegal war, he should be taken to The Hague to face criminal charges because he has committed crimes against the Iraqi people.”

Ahmed Rushdi, an Iraqi journalist, said that he was unsurprised by Blair’s defence of the invasion, because, “A liar is still a liar”. He also claimed that the war had done more harm than good, because, “Before 2003 there were problems with security, infrastructure and services, and people died because of the sanctions, but after 2003 there are major disasters. Major blasts have killed about 2,000 people up till now. After six years or seven years there is no success on the ground, in any aspect.”

Cquote1.svg Why did we participate in an illegal invasion of another country? Cquote2.svg

—Nick Clegg

Current prime minister Gordon Brown, who set up the inquiry, said before Blair’s appearance that it was not a cause for concern. Anthony Seldon, Blair’s biographer, called the session “a pivotal day for him [Blair], for the British public and for Britain’s moral authority in the world”. Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, who opposes the war, said in Friday’s Daily Telegraph that it was “a pivotal moment in answering a question millions of British people are still asking themselves: Why did we participate in an illegal invasion of another country?” He called the invasion “subservience-by-default to the White House”, and questioned the “special relationship” between between the United Kingdom and the United States.

Vincent Moss, the political editor of the Sunday Mirror newspaper, criticised the inquiry for being too soft on Blair. He said, “A lot of ground wasn’t covered, and in my mind it wasn’t covered in enough detail, particularly the dodgy dossier in September 2002. There wasn’t very much interrogation on that, they pretty much accepted what Tony Blair said about the intelligence. We could have had an awful lot stronger questioning on that”.

It is feared by some senior Labour Party politicians that today’s events could ignite strong feelings about the issue in voters, and thereby damage the popularity of the party, which is already trailing behind the Conservative Party with a general election required in the first half of the year.


Related news

  • “UK Attorney General Lord Goldsmith admits to changing mind over Iraq war” — Wikinews, January 27, 2010
  • “UK cabinet minister Jack Straw ignored advice that Iraq invasion was illegal” — Wikinews, January 26, 2010

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